I am drinking coffee this morning courtesy of Shelly Fraley and, no, she didn't buy it or bring it to me or anything. I brewed it myself and am drinking it because I feel such an overwhelming enthusiasm for Hush (The Secret Project) that I will need the push to write this, especially after staying awake most of last night listening to the album over and over and over when I should have been getting my beauty rest. That's right, good looks like this don't come without a sacrifice, my friends, but let me qualify that by saying that staying up with Fraley was no sacrifice. It was pure pleasure and I'll tell you why. I love pop music but not just any pop music. I love pop music that puts wind in your sails or under your wings, that makes you soar whether it's into the depths or over the clouds, that makes melody king and harmony queen, that reaches into you and brings you out of yourself if only for the length and breadth of one song. So many do it but so few do it right that when I find it I hang onto it as if it might disappear. Right now, I'm hanging on to Hush.
God, but I wish I could toss out names like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry to make people pay attention, but Swift has never impressed me as much as the rest of the world (though she does have an amazing sense of pop) and Perry is more gimmick than substance, so I am limited in the way of comparisons and will have to rely on names I revere but which most will not recognize: Gileah Taylor and Carolyn Arends. There is something about the songs which bring those two to mind and trust me when I tell you that that is a compliment of the highest order. Taylor and Arends completely swept me away and still do so, so when I place Fraley in that company, for me that is great company, indeed.
You can hear wisps of both on certain tracks. I struggled the first few times through because I would hear a phrase or a chord progression which clicked inside and my mind started following not the path of the Fraley song but a song I knew and loved but couldn't quite hear. It was disturbing. I played the album numerous times and resisted the impulse to stop and play a couple of songs hoping to make the transition because I found myself really, really wanting to hear the music which I held inside but which eluded me. Maybe the fifth time through the entire album it hit me. We Go On and Oh My Soul is so close to what Gileah has done and Just Don't Want To Be Alone, Carolyn, and it was a relief to know but my heart sank a bit too because when you mention others, it detracts from the artist of the moment and I always struggle to find the words to say that, yes, there is something there that reminds me of (?) but it isn't at all a copy or derivative, because once that statement is made, that bell has been rung and you can't take it back. So let me put it this way. Those songs are good enough to be either Gileah's or Carolyn's and when I say that, it means more than it seems. They are outstanding songs and stand on their own, period.
Now here's where things get interesting. Fraley does not stay within the constraints of that side of pop music. She reaches back to the late fifties and early sixties to bring the vocal group sound to the fore, say, The Shirelles or The Cookies—not mimicking the sound but the era—and it works much better than one might think. In fact, Darlin' is right in the ballpark of AM radio in those glory years. But she does not stop there. She throws in an Addams Family feeling on Bewitched and a Dala feeling on Crushed (Dala actually wrote and recorded a song by that title, though it sounds little like this) and makes me appreciate even more what teens used to listen to back in the day. I wasn't quite a teen when The Shirelles or The Cookies topped the charts, but I remember the music like it was yesterday. Fraley nails it.
The piece of resistance, though, is the magnificent Won't Forget You, a love song so poignant and beautiful that it could squeeze blood from a turnip—a music-loving turnip, anyway. Is it new or ground breaking? No, but when it comes to matters of the heart, I don't want new or groundbreaking. I want emotional and heartrending and honest and heartbreaking and a whole host of other feelings and Fraley brings those out in me and goosebumps as well. The combination of melody, harmony, arrangement and musicianship (the guitar, simple as it is, has "that sound", you know?) is a rush and I find myself wanting to listen to it like I listened to so many songs when I was a hormone-impaired youth, tears streaming in my heart if not down my face. If this song had been released in the seventies or eighties, it would have been a hit. A smash hit.
Bear with me here. I'm almost done, but I really don't want to be because that will mean I have to set this album aside for awhile while I tend to the business of listening to others for the purpose of review. So let me tell you a tale of Six Degrees. You remember my mention of Gileah Taylor? (if you don't, you'd better start taking memory pills immediately) Well, I'm looking over the Hush album jacket last night as I'm listening and I run across a name I not only recognize but respect: Allen Salmon. Allen Salmon, if you're at all interested, produced and played on Gileah's Gileah & The Ghost Train album from 2007. Sonofagun. I was thinking "no wonder it has that aura of Gileah" but I know that is unfair to Fraley, who obviously put her heart and soul into this really, really fine album and deserves top billing. Fraley can be a comparison, though, when Gileah puts out her next album (which I hope will be soon).
Shelly Fraley sent her last album, Into the Sun, to me in the same package. I listened one time through before being steamrolled by Hush. It has a sticker on it that says it includes music as heard on Private Practice, Army Wives, One Tree Hill and more! I don't watch any of them. The album is good, though. I want to go back and listen to it sometime, but right now I can't pull myself away from Hush. Can you tell I really like this? Good, because I do.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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